Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • auxiliary v. Used to indicate ability or permission in the past: I could run faster then. Only men could go to the club in those days.
  • auxiliary v. Used with hypothetical or conditional force: If we could help, we would.
  • auxiliary v. Used to indicate tentativeness or politeness: I could be wrong. Could you come over here?

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. Simple past of can.
  • v. Used to politely ask for permission to do something.
  • v. Used to politely ask for someone else to do something.
  • v. Used to show the possibility that something might happen.
  • v. Used to suggest something.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Was, should be, or would be, able, capable, or susceptible. Used as an auxiliary, in the past tense or in the conditional present.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Preterit of can.

Etymologies

From Middle English coude, from Old English cuþ, preterite form of cunnan ("to be able"). The addition of the silent 'l' was likely a misappropriation attempting to normalize with modal verbs will/would and shall/should. However, while the letter l was historically pronounced in the latter two, can never did have an l sound in it. (Wiktionary)

Examples

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